log (2001/02/02 to 2001/02/08)

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Thursday, February 8, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto!

Actually I have no idea where I got this "Styx's Greatest Hits" CD, but it's proving surprisingly enjoyable. "Come Sail Away" is wildly nostalgic (speakers propped in dorm windows, frisbee on the lawn, the sweet smell of cannabis on the sun-saturated air), and I don't think I've ever heard "Mr. Roboto" before (and now it's stuck in my head).

A helpful reader writes:

Oh gosh, very sorry, your solitary quote from the Wizard of Oz is totally bogus. The actual quote is "I'm melting! Melting! Oh -- what a world -- what a world!"

I would like to point out, equally helpfully, that the reader's quote from Franz Kafka is also bogus, and the actual quote is "These awfully thin walls, which betray the honest man, but cover the dishonest!"

I trust that clears that up.

Books! Our faithful readers have of course recommended a bunch of them, some of which follow. It's not clear that all of these are actually book recommendations, but we're not picky. I haven't decided yet whether I'll stick in the obvious Amazon links and such, or say anything useful or witty as we go down the list. You'll know in a moment what I decided, though!

Not just a good book, the best book of the past year is Charles Baxter's The Feast of Love.

The Federalist Papers...

(The latter suggestion is especially noteworthy because, although I can't say for sure, it appears to have come from someone in Israel.)

The Sot-Weed Factor.
The Serial (A Year in the Life of Marin County.)
Short stories by T. Coraghessan Boyle.
The Sheep Look Up.
In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash.

Gad, the childhood memories! Listening to Jean Shepherd's gravelly chuckling mysterious voice on the radio late at night, telling stories about What it Used to be Like.

A Walk in the Woods. [Which of many? -- ed.]
The Curve of Binding Energy.
Little Beaver and the Echo.

Silly David, it's The Good Book.

The Mythical Man-Month

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Resurrection Day

Lucy's getting high with Linus (the girl with kalidescope eyes?)

devil with a blue glass - blue glass - blue glass - devil with a blue glass arm

I like those last two, although I'm not sure they're strictly speaking books? Excuse me while I kiss this guy.

Why People Believe Weird Things

Why They Kill: The Discoveries of a Maverick Criminologist. If you ever were curious about what makes people become violent criminals, this book answers the question. Disturbing, yes, but incredibly fascinating, and very, very good. -Beth

Those two go nicely together! *8)

For some ironic fun (probably almost the worst kind), check out "Reality Bites."

Speaking of Chris Ware, check out his recent book Jimmy Corrigan: Smartest Kid On Earth. It's quite near the top of my list of lifetime favorites.

Possession, by A.S. Byatt. Although, literate man that you are, presumably you've already read the Booker Prize winning gem of a novel.

That's so kind! Mistaken, but kind. I plan to wallow in all the Booker novels once the kids are off to college. Until then I live vicariously through the New York Times Book Review.

The /Dragonriders of Pern/ Series, by Anne McCaffrey

I can only imagine that Bataille's Story of the Eye [warning: sanity-threatening material -- ed.] has been mentioned a few times at least. One of my favorites. And then of course there's always The Elephant. -ahem- :^) - bovine

deltoid pumpkin seed


irons in the fire, john mcphee

McPhee seems to be Our Favorite Author, which isn't entirely surprising. Thanks to all for the additions to the Reading List; aren't we eclectic, though?

When I get a little money, I buy books.

Wednesday, February 7, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

"Eat your wieners on buns, no condiments."
-- Hank

"A Discordian shall partake of no hot dog buns."

-- Eris

So now I've finished The Birthgrave, and (despite the fact that it's the first of a trilogy) I found it more satisfying than the "Biting the Sun" books I commented on the other week. It's a rich and comparatively complicated book, about self-knowledge and self-discovery, or rather about the lack thereof, and how dangerous it can be for both self and others. Of course it's also about an ancient Lost Race, erupting volcanos, giant lizards, chariot races, magical powers, space ships, and that sort of thing; but if it was only about that it wouldn't be nearly as worthwhile.

My main complaint is that the heroine achieves self-discovery only in the last couple of pages, and the rest of the book is devoted to showing how awful things are before that. Lee skirts close to the edge; as her protagonist did more and more stupid, bloody, murderous, passive aggressive, and sometimes downright evil things, I came close to ceasing to care what happened to her. But I didn't quite go over that edge, and the ending was moderately satisfying. I'll probably read the other two books in the series if I can find them (although this one stands by itself just fine, except that you do wonder what happened to the son she abandoned when it was an infant).


I've also just finished, and I highly recommend, Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer: Stories by Ben Katchor. This is wonderful sequential art (comic strips, cartoons), both visually and narratively. Katchor is somewhere in the big fuzzy area between "unique and sometimes disturbing vision" and "silliness", between fondness and ridicule, between nostalgia and irony. I can't always decide which line he's closer to, but it doesn't really matter. Read the Amazon reviews, buy the book, read it slowly.

Now I'm reading "House of Leaves", as recommended by various readers. (Note that it's really "House of Leaves", or something like that, but that's even more trouble than writing "Yahoo!" for "Yahoo".) The little bit I've read so far is intriguing; I'll let you know if I'm devoured by any beasts from the abyss or anything. (Or I guess maybe I won't actually; I mean if I were to be devoured by a beast from the abyss (or anything else, for that matter) I wouldn't really be able to write in my log anymore, eh?)

All my beautiful evil!

Tuesday, February 6, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

Slinter brought it to me as he had a thousand, ten thousand, times before, carefully cupped in the ebony bowl, not touching it himself (had I not punished him enough for once touching it himself?).

"This is the last one, Lord," he said, head bowed, voice carefully neutral.

"The last one." I picked it up and felt it cool in my palm, as white and pale as the ebony was dark.

"Yes, Lord."

"I suppose then, this being the last one, I should preserve it, save it against some urgent future need."

"As your Lordship wishes." Oh, so carefully neutral, so utterly not gloating.

It lay in my palm. My throat was dry. I was hungry.

More Autogynophilia: TheSpark's Gender Test thinks I'm definitely (or "80%") a woman. Cool! I wasn't trying to fool it or anything. So here's a piece of women's news:

From Medley, another reason to fear John Ashcroft. Obscure Law Bans Abortion Information on Internet:

Far from being a quaint relic of Victorian mores, a modified version of the Comstock Act is buried within the Telecommunications Act of 1996. It makes sending information about abortion over the Internet punishable by up to five years in prison for the first offense and fines of up to $250,000.

(I'm not too happy with the idea that that's necessarily "women's news", really. Even back when I was male, I was concerned about stuff like that.)

Amusing word-usage of the day, from Risks: "Security holes protect your equipment from theft".

RSA broken? Just in case someone tells you this, you can point them at SlashDot or Ron Rivest saying "well, no". Just the press getting carried away again.

Geek humor: TBTF has a nice item about strange ways to do networking (IP over email, carrier pigeons, etc), in which it is noted that the original RFC on IP over carrier pigeons now has an update: IP over Avian Carriers with Quality of Service.

NATs are not recommended either -- as with many protocols, modifying the brain-embedded IP addresses is difficult, plus Avian Carriers MAY eat the NATs.

OK, so everyone is covering this whole "Juno requires its members to donate their cycles" story, but that doesn't mean I won't also. Here's the relevant section of the Juno Privacy Agreement, just in case they change it tomorrow. In the phrase "Free internet access", just what does "Free" mean?

2.5. You expressly permit and authorize Juno to (i) download to your computer one or more pieces of software (the "Computational Software") designed to perform computations, which may be unrelated to the operation of the Service, on behalf of Juno (or on behalf of such third parties as may be authorized by Juno, subject to the Privacy Statement), (ii) run the Computational Software on your computer to perform and store the results of such computations, and (iii) upload such results to Juno's central computers during a subsequent connection, whether initiated by you in the course of using the Service or by the Computational Software as further described below. In connection with downloading and running the Computational Software, Juno may require you to leave your computer turned on at all times, and may replace the "screen saver" software that runs on your computer while the computer is turned on but you are not using it.

Impeach them Naughty Supremes?

Steve found out about the Necronauts from Caterina, and he thinks they're "confused". I think they're kinda neat, really.

death is a type of space, which we intend to map, enter, colonise and, eventually, inhabit.

Not at all clear what they might mean, but hey!

A reader writes:

See Northrup Frye for Irony, the best thing on the subject.

So that's another book to read.

And speaking of more books to read, there's an update to the List (links mine):

if you're not familiar with it, "the haunted woman" by david lindsay (author of "a voyage to arcturus", one of my all-time favorites) is pretty vasty-housey.....
dirk hine (subterranean notes)

It occurs to me also that there must be some children's books that would merit a "5" on the list. I asked the little daughter, but she could only think of "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe", which is already on the list as a 4 (since the house leads to, but does not contain, Narnia). Surely there's some kid's book out there that's Right On? Or do I have to write one of those also?

Obsess, obsess! More good books to come...

Monday, February 5, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

Maybe it is raining,
  where our train will ride,
But all the little travellers,
  are safe and warm inside.

Somewhere there is sunshine,
  somewhere there is day.
Somewhere there is Morningtown,
  many miles away.

So standing there in the little boy's bedroom last night, looking out at the snow and the moon with my nose close to the glass, feeling that dreamy nostalgia (or whatever it is) that I feel when breathing cold window-air and looking out at the snow and the moon, it occurred to me that this particular lovely moment, like so many other similar lovely moments, were possible because our windows are imperfectly insulated.

How many of the memories in which we take such great delight, and by which we define ourselves, are in the same way due to something that, in the obvious simple models of the world, looks like imperfection or inefficiency? Everything from the winter-flavored chill of the air near a window, the few moments of familiar but profound darkness on first coming home after a week away and fumbling around for the lightswitch, to larger and more significant things, like waking up to find the ground covered with snow and school cancelled, or eating a peanut butter and jelly dinner by birthday candles because the power's gone off.

Some of these things will be fixed so they don't happen anymore. I don't mean to suggest that the magic will go out of the world when (if) our windows no longer have their blankets of chilly air; future generations will just build their sweetest memories out of other things, some of which will (and some of which won't) depend on whatever imperfections and inefficiencies remain to them.

In a way I imagine it's always been like this. In another way, though, the imperfections by which we partly define ourselves are (aren't they?) being fixed ("fixed") more rapidly than ever.

Faced with an unlabelled input box, five readers (perhaps five) were somewhat nonplussed:

Where are the instructions?




there's a text box on the side of your page

Others just carried on as usual. Viz:

RE: "mu!" -- I must say I simply don't get it. Could be the result of faulty genetics, I don't really know, but the fact remains that I was looking forward to a good hearty laugh upon the completion of my reading of the refered to text, and was disappointingly deprived of the pleasure of doing so.

Well, if you know the usual "the light's better over here" joke, and you know Joshu's "Mu", then there's not much else I can tell ya! It isn't necessarily a joke (although some people have reported finding it very funny); it could be a koan or something...

I'm not sure figuring out voter error is all that easy. Consider a ballot with the instructions "vote for one: A or B," and two people go in to vote: Mr. X and Mr. Y. Okay, first you need the official results. That shouldn't be too hard. Next you have to find out who X and Y voted for. What if one or both won't say? What if one or both lie? But let's say we trust them. X says he voted for A. Y says he voted for B. And the results show A got one vote and B got one vote. Nor error, right? Not necessarily. Suppose it was B Mr X said he had voted for and suppose it was A Mr Y said he voted for? 100% voter error. Eek!

Now throw in Mr. Z, who said he just randomly voted, not paying any attention. Now throw in Mr. Q, who intended to vote for A but couldn't get to the polls. True, Q doesn't figure in voter error by most definitions, but assuming Q legitimately intended to vote but couldn't, shouldn't that be considered a voter error... whether because his car had a flat tire or his daughter got sick or he thought the election was next Tuesday?

Sure, those are good examples of why it's not trivial to estimate voter error. But I don't remember suggesting it was trivial, or even easy. I don't see any reason to think it's not possible, though. Reasonable assumptions and the law of large numbers can be used in all sorts of clever ways by clever people. Well-done polls often are pretty accurate, for instance, despite the fact that everyone you talk to on a given day might just be in one of those "lie to polsters" moods.

But as no one has given me any pointers to estimates of margins of error in elections, maybe you're right, and it's Just Too Hard! Or maybe I just haven't looked hard enough...

Various good book ideas are stilled queued up for a future number. Right now I should probably go shovel some snow or something!

Friday, February 2, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

I am just totally geeked out today (specifically, I'm hacking together a Perl script to talk SOAP to a UDDI server down at the socket level, because I don't want to have to install multiple megabytes of eCommerce enabling infrastructure just to do a few trivial HTTP requests).

Paul Ford (the God of Narrative) has also been geeking around, but much more eloquently. His recent "Notes and Observations on Building a Web Site with XSLT" is much more readable and pleasure enhancing than anything with that title has a right to be:

A truly experienced programmer will laugh at XSLT, much as the gods laugh at mortals; someone new to XML and programming will reach a point of frustration such that they will prefer to drive nails into their head than feel one more moment of XML/XSLT confusion.
XSLT is a changing standard; it's seen as part of a giant framework of different XML-based Web standards which will work together, and, according to different claims, will:
  • bring peace and bliss to the world in our time;
  • make it easy to order Disney and Microsoft products on the Web;
  • destroy our freedom of thought and creative abilities.

And I can't resist quoting (stealing) this wisdom from his Rationale for this Web site:

Why bother creating a Web site like Ftrain? There's only so much to be learned from reading; the armchair football fan grows fat with his bag of chips, watching every Monday-night game, and the reader grows intellectually soft if she does not try to form word-patterns herself.

Word patterns! Once my brain spins down a bit, I hope to be able to form some of my own again.

Cameras scanned fans for criminals: everyone is of course talking about the police having fed every Superbowl goer's face into a computer. What strikes me most about the story, for some reason, is one little detail that I heard on the radio: doing this wasn't the police's idea. Apparently the company that makes the surveillance system came to them and suggested it. I'm too nonverbal at the moment to say anything profound about what that might mean, but it's definitely flagged for later consideration...

Making the rounds: Electron Band Structure In Germanium, My Ass:

Abstract: The exponential dependence of resistivity on temperature in germanium is found to be a great big lie. My careful theoretical modeling and painstaking experimentation reveal 1) that my equipment is crap, as are all the available texts on the subject and 2) that this whole exercise was a complete waste of my time.

Smoking Gun's collection of media love-letters to Ted Kaczynski:

I know I represent a form of technology abhorrent to you, but I also know from reading excerpts from your journal... and descriptions of the intricately made explosive devices that you have a talent for using anything at hand for your purposes.

There's lots of reader feedback queued up, and at least one new book for the List, but the hacking side of my brain is starting to rattle its bars something fierce, so I'd better go write some more code and give it some exercise. Tranks for tuning in!


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